On a highly mechanized burley operation in east Tennessee, a farmer prepares cured leaf for marketing in this image from several years ago. How much mechanization will be right for you in the coming season, or how little? File photo by the editor.
There can be no doubt: Tobacco farmers will face a huge challenge making a profit in 2020. There are a variety of reasons but the one most difficult to address is that...
The world supply of leaf is way out of proportion to the current demand. The dreary prospects for 2020 that TFN is hearing are that we might have an attrition among tobacco farmers of 20 percent, if not more.
Identifying the problem: The Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. held a forum on the situation on January 19. I wasn't allowed to attend, but I was able to interview four of the participants right afterward and heard some good ideas. Here is what I found out:
The strong American dollar is a big problem for our leaf, said Graham Boyd, chief executive officer, TGANC. "It puts us at a big disadvantage in the world market. It interferes with our efforts to recapture lost markets but we must keep trying."
The first step now is to contact your financier and find out what is going to be realistic in 2020, said Blake Brown, N.C. Extension ag economist. "Try to have a plan. You don't want to be in a situation of where you are desperate and tempted to respond with desperate moves."
There is a lot of excess production in the world. A resumption of sales to China would be a godsend, but if it happened now, it might not take place in time for the 2020 crop.
It was a dismal season for Jeff Turlington. "We made about a half crop," said the flue-cured grower of Coats, N.C., just south of Raleigh. "We had drought from the beginning, then too much rain for several months, then Hurricane Dorian." which brought 45 to 50 mile gusts that hasted ripening much faster than could be handled. His other crops don't look very promising now.
The yield in 2019 was definitely down for Tom Shaw of Vance County, N.C. "The crop was beautiful early, but in July the weather changed," said Shaw. "Marketing this crop was a challenge. Our problem was trash and burnt tails. What the buyers wanted was what we didn't have."
Start gathering ideas now on how to produce tobacco at the lowest possible cost. A good place to start will be the North Carolina Tobacco Day on December 5 at the Johnston County Extension Center, Smithfield, N.C., lasting from 9 a.m. through lunch. Here is a partial list of the presentations. All speakers except Griffin are members of the N.C. Extension Service.
Report from Tennessee: In upper east Tennessee, burley attained decent size early in the season, but then the rain stopped, said Bennie Davis of Surgoinsville. "We didn't have enough water to fill it out. It really needed water to bloom." He went ahead and harvested in September, but the weather problem has continued and he hasn't been able to strip any of it yet."It is sappy in the top third of the plant," he said. "We will have a hard time marketing a desirable crop, and it is going to be light."
Burley declining in the Blue Ridge: Hawkins County, where Davis lives near the border with Virginia, once had a thriving burley crop. But as best Davis can tell now, it was down to three growers this year, including him. The bad prospects for 2020 may bring an historic industry to its end in this mountainous area nestled in the Ridge and Valley region.
In the Philippines, growers get help from Representatives: A legislator has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives seeking to regulate vaping products. According to CNN Philippines, the purpose of the bill in part is to protect small-scale tobacco farmers who have been suffering losses due to e-cigarettes, which are commonly advertised as "safer" and "less harmful" alternatives to conventional tobacco products.